Are Baseball Video Games Dead and Buried?

by Kolby Solinsky
Editor, White Cover Magazine

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Somewhere and somehow — in the dead of the night and not coincidentally corresponding to the rise of the Internet media — Kotaku became the go-to, definitive source for video games junkies and kids without digitally enhanced parents. This could be for any number of reasons. It could be because Kotaku is a little braver and a little more brash than its “competition”. It could be because it sounds Japanese. But, the site continues to ask the questions that shape the video game critiquing world every day.

Yesterday’s premise — Will Anyone Really Care If There’s No More Baseball on the XBox? — was no different.

Of course, Kotaku could have easily asked the general question for all platforms, not just Windows’s oversized black clunker of a machine. But, there was news about baseball and its Micro-softballs. Apparently, the new version of The Show made its way to Kotaku’s (well, Gawker’s) headquarters.

The Show has had no serious competition for five years. Next year it won’t have any, in name or otherwise. The long-underperforming MLB 2K series is done for, which made this past week’s details about MLB 13 The Show significant, not for what they say about a game that will come out, but for forcing gamers to confront the reality of one that won’t.

“The last time we had a series cancellation anywhere near the scope of the one coming, it was when EA Sports decided to pull the plug on its NCAA Basketball series in 2010. There was a very brief reckoning with what that meant; gamers quickly understood that these series, no matter their quality, didn’t sell very well because they followed the NBA simulation products by one month, and most folks are interested in college basketball only enough to follow it in one month, March.”

And, really, is baseball any different?

There are diehard for every sport. Baseball certainly has them, but they’re not playing XBox. And, for even the big sports fans that follow others with more feverishness, baseball is only important from the second half of September to the end of October (and, sometimes, November).

All sports are niche sports, except football and football (i.e. soccer).

EA Sports’s NHL series has built up a solid following because it has become the best sports game on the planet. The invention of the right joystick as the mouse and the left as the player’s skates is one of the simplest but most ingenious inventions in video game history. Suddenly, Madden has given way (quality-wise) to the Europeans who play FIFA and the Canadians who have supported NHL throughout all this time.

(*NOTE: NHL 13 even has reporters and journalists who have been broadcasting “Fake Seasons” during the current lockout, just because they can’t live without hockey for that long. Baseball fans would never do that. Sure, they’ll flick on a Kevin Costner movie once in a while, but that’s about it.)

Hockey games are fun. Soccer games are fun. Madden is fun. Snowboarding. Fun. Skateboarding. Fun.

But, baseball? (And, basketball?)

Let’s assess the ability to even transfer a real baseball game to any video gaming platform, because there are problems in the premise. First off, batting and pitching — 90% of every baseball game — are a human aspect. The pitcher controls where his toss goes and how fast it goes. It comes down to his knuckle placement and his feet. One little slip-up — in any part of his body — derails the process.

That’s why guys hit home runs in the bottom of the 11th, or after Pedro Martinez has been left on the mound too long. Fatigue is fatigue, but it’s not like in other games. It’s not like in hockey, where players get slower and more sluggish. In baseball, it happens all of a sudden, and it’s not like gas in the tank.

When it comes to batting, the MLB games and The Show have done all they can do — give different batters with varying skills better chances to hit the ball and make contact. But, when it comes down to the actual gameplay, baseball video games are doomed.

There’s no natural variety in video games like there is in real life. Video games can’t tap into what makes athletes do whatever they do, or find that magic in the 9th.

On your screen and with your joystick, it happens by coincidence and by design. In baseball, it just… happens.

There are no Scott Hattebergs on the XBox. No Aaron Boone. No Bill Buckner or Steve Bartman. No Luis Gonzalez. No Kirby Puckett. Certainly no Joe Carter. On the XBox, any missed grounders or late-inning home runs are based on percentages.

And, really, when was that fun?

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*We ask you: is there any difference between the futility of these two games?

(To show how far back we just went, that NBA Live 2003 commercial has Steve Nash in a Dallas Mavericks jersey.)




Comments

  1. Nice insight. Liked how you brought the other games into the mix. Might be important to go more in depth on how EA lost the license for MLB though – that was the beginning of the end.

    Once they lost it 2K had no competition to push them, and noting that could shed some light on the NHL series and a possible downfall if 2K falls too much out of favor.

    1. Well, I think Kotaku said that 2K isn’t coming back… at all. At least, not next year.

      This may be good for anyone making these games. They’ll have to be bold and kick it up a notch, just like NHL did in 2007 and FIFA has been doing over the past decade. They need to drastically revamp the gameplay.

      Right now, the best baseball games and basketball games are ones like The Bigs or NBA Jam. Fun ones. Arcade-style.

      It’s tough to make truly realistic games about two sports that are so human-based. Like, how do you win in NBA Live shooting 3-pointers? Mostly luck, I’d say.